Beach – Short Story
She has a dark straggle of hair underneath her belly button, a perfect little hole punctured above it where a ring should be, and razor burn at the top of her thighs. She doesn’t notice me, spread out uncomfortably like a straight bloke lying on a bed of nails, having his entire body waxed. I’m a lad used to deck chairs and beers in the back yard, not small towels on miles of annoying, yellow grit. She is looking past me, beyond the small knuckle of a cliff, heavy with fat, angry gulls. Beyond the greasy cafe where oil rings the rim of tea cups and American tourists demand butter with their chocolate muffins. Past the hotel selling clotted cream scones and a good view for a hefty wad of clean, crisp notes. Being a poet, I can imagine a million and one places where she’s ‘looking to,’ but it pisses me off that I don’t know and don’t have the balls to ask. Then again, I’d rather not ask this one anything. She has hair on her belly. Hair on her belly like a bloke. Her nails in the guise of hooks are decorated with pinky white swirls as though she’s gone and dipped them into a tub of raspberry ripple ice cream.
She turns and the sand turns with her, and she moves through the jumble of fleshy people trying to wipe sand out from creases in their stomachs, thin people slapping factor 60 on their roasted skin and muscle bound people existing and loving it. She moves towards the gushing waves, and suddenly I’m worried. My belly tells me so before my head. It doesn’t matter about the fucking hair on her belly. She had nothing with her. Nothing left on the beach; no towel, keys, no sandwiches or ice cream wrappers. She is walking too determinedly towards the surf and I am scared. I need to squint to watch as she gets past her waist in the water. I stand up when she goes under, then she surfaces and splashes for a while and for a moment I’m relieved. Sunlight catches the slip of metal in her pink hair bobble. She swims as strong as I’ve seen anyone; I need to move to keep sight. Then I lose her completely. I run to where the sea meets the sand.
“Did you see her? Has she come out?” People swerve to avoid me, as though my ‘minder’ has taken his eyes of his ‘patient’ for a few seconds. Nobody knows or cares who I am talking about. I drop my sunglasses in the water. They don’t matter. I wade out. It’s fucking freezing and the cold clutches my bollocks. There are less people now. The sun is ducking down and the sky filling out. Towels are shook, collapsible cups emptied, sand castles jumped on. I wait. I can’t feel my feet. I ask the last few stragglers carrying a surf board between them. No one had seen her. Maybe if I hadn’t had those nasty thoughts…maybe all of this is my fault. Shit like that happens doesn’t it? Nasty thoughts lead to even nastier events. I’ve heard of it happening before to some of my mates.
I have to cross the car park to get home across the fields peppered with sand. There is a bicycle, a woman’s one. It isn’t padlocked. There is an empty water bottle in the scrappy basket at the front, along with a pair of cut off denims and a battered note book. More than half of the pages have been ripped out, the rest are empty. Shards of paper are banked up against the wall. Did she go the wrong way around on the dodgems? Did she attack her own reflection? Did she have accommodation? A family? An education? Did she curl up in an armchair in Waterstones and spend whole afternoons there? I start picking up the pieces of paper.